In the year following the Frierdiker Rebbe’s passing, the Rebbe continued and expanded the work of the Frierdiker Rebbe at full force, but it took a year of convincing for the Rebbe to formally accept the nesius. Derher presents an overview of that unique period in Lubavitch history.
By A Chassidisher Derher
A Nossi of the Jewish people is born a Nossi. Moshe Rabbeinu, the first Nossi, is described in Midrash with the words, “mesukan le’kach”; meaning, that from the moment he was born, he was already destined to lead the Jewish people.
In his Reshimos, the Frierdiker Rebbe highlights this idea of the Midrash with a story that occurred on the Rebbe Rashab’s third birthday. The Rebbe Maharash and his Rebbetzin were summoned by the Tzemach Tzedek, who told them: “The same שמן פך רוחני (spiritual jug of oil) that the Baal Shem Tov gave the Mezritcher Maagid to anoint the Alter Rebbe, providing him the power of conveying the nesius in future generations, was used to anoint my father-in-law [the Mitteler Rebbe] and myself. With that power I have anointed you [the Rebbe Maharash] and I am now anointing him [the Rebbe Rashab].”
Regarding this story, the Rebbe explains that although only one Nossi may preside at one time, each Rebbe was “anointed” already during the lifetime of the previous one, ensuring that immediately following the histalkus of one Nossi, the nesius of the ensuing Nossi would begin.
Nevertheless, often throughout the generations, the ensuing Nossi initially refused to accept the nesius immediately after the histalkus, and it took time and ‘persuasion’ from Chassidim until the nesius was openly accepted. Still, even in the initial period of refusal, the new Nossi would teach and guide the Chassidim, albeit without formally accepting the nesius.
These two aspects were apparent during the first year following the Frierdiker Rebbe’s histalkus. On one hand, the Rebbe immediately filled the Frierdiker Rebbe’s position, carrying on his holy work and guiding the Chassidim in both spiritual and material matters. But it was only after an entire year of the Chassidim’s tireless insistence and pleading that the Rebbe formally agreed to accept the nesius.
The following stories, which occurred in the year following the Frierdiker’s Rebbe’s histalkus, attest to these two aspects in the Rebbe’s conduct. We will attempt, whenever possible, to preserve the stories in the order in which they occurred. It’s important to bear in mind that the stories here represent only a small glimpse into that period as it actually unfolded, highlighting some of the major occurrences.
For a better understanding of these events, it is advisable to read the full accounts as they have been published in various forms, especially the sefer “Yemei Bereishis”.
Consoled with Menachem
Immediately following the Frierdiker Rebbe’s histalkus, Chassidim’s eyes turned towards the Rebbe in the hope that he would agree to be M’maalle-Makom. Perhaps the earliest hint to these feelings is found in a letter penned by Reb Avrohom Sender Nemtzov after news of the histalkus reached him in England. He concluded his letter with the words vaHashem Yisborech Yenachamenu BeMenachem, expressing the hope that the Chassidim be comforted with the Rebbe agreeing to accept the nesius.
A similar response was reported from Eretz Yisroel as well. While Chassidim sat shiva in the Lubavitcher shul in Tel-Aviv, Reb Avrohom Pariz stood up and announced that no one is to feel dejected, because the [Frierdiker] Rebbe had left them with his son-in-law [the Rebbe]. “Understandably,” continued Reb Avrohom, “due to his great humility he will try to evade the position, but Chassidim must pledge their hiskashrus to him, and plead with him to accept the nesius.”
A mere three days after the histalkus, Reb Yitzchok Dubov, one of the elder Chassidim from Manchester, England, (who was in New York to attend his son’s wedding), gathered his courage and approached the Rebbe, hoping to convince him to accept the nesius. The Rebbe was adamant in his refusal. “Der Rebbe lebt,” (the [Frierdiker] Rebbe still lives), he said. However, Reb Yitzchok persisted, protesting that “this was the case for all the Rebbeim, and they still had successors.” The Rebbe responded in astonishment (referring to himself by name), “What do you think, M. M. is a Rebbe?”
When Reb Yitzchok Dubov returned to England, he visited Reb Bentzion Shemtov to discuss the Rebbe’s refusal of the nesius. Reb Bentzion began formulating a “Ksav Hiskashrus” to the Rebbe, heading it with the words K’vod Kedushas Admur Shlita. When the Rebbe received the letter, he commented to Rabbi Hadokov, “What do you think about such a strange letter?” Rabbi Hadokov answered that to him it didn’t seem strange at all! Anash in England then began preparing a communal “Ksav Hiskashrus” to the Rebbe, which was sent in time for the Shloshim a few weeks later.
The Rebbe Refuses
All the while, the Rebbe adamantly refused to show any sign of formal acceptance of the nesius. Interestingly, when Anash and Tmimim began to approach the Rebbe to ask his holy advice, the Rebbe would reply to their queries—especially those of the Tmimim. To people who inquired about material matters (health, livelihood etc.), the Rebbe would say, “I know as much as you do.” However, when pressed further, the Rebbe would give his holy advice, adding that the advice did not come with the title of ‘Rebbe’ attached. When Chassidim would return to inform the Rebbe that they had fulfilled the Rebbe’s instructions and had been successful, the Rebbe would respond, “Now my responsibility is over.”
Reb Sholom Ber Gordon relates that when he entered the Rebbe’s room with one of his children, the Rebbe offered the child his hand, but the child refused to shake it. The Rebbe commented: “Oy gevald! Already he doesn’t want to give me his hand either.”
Throughout the Shloshim (weekdays included) the Rebbe wore his Shabbos le’vush – a sirtuk, black hat, etc., and many Chassidim had presumed to interpret this as a general acceptance of the nesius. At its conclusion, however, the Rebbe returned to wearing his ordinary clothing – shorter jacket, etc. – during the week (although the Rebbe began wearing a black hat permanently from that point onward).
At a gathering of elder Chassidim, Reb Shmuel Levitin pointed out that this (the Rebbe reverting to wearing his ordinary weekday le’vush) was a sign of his refusal to accept the nesius. Many Chassidim persisted in trying to persuade the Rebbe to accept the nesius, but the Rebbe refused them all. Nevertheless, the Chassidim continued to convene, to brainstorm new ways to persuade the Rebbe. At a meeting of elder Chassidim in Eretz Yisroel, they resolved that they would do all within their power to have the Rebbe accept the nesius in a formal manner.
At the same time however, the Rebbe ready filling the Frierdiker Rebbe’s role in responding to the Chassidim with advice in Avodas Hashem, giving brochos regarding material concerns, and bestowing miraculous yeshuos. This was in addition to speaking clear words of guidance to Chassidim at his regular farbrengens (about hiskashrus and so on, aside for the just Divrei Torah).
Nevertheless, the Rebbe absolutely refused to accept the nesius in any official or public manner, saying that “M’darf hobin hora’os” (there must be instructions), i.e. that the Frierdiker Rebbe never explicitly instructed so. During one of their meetings, the elder Chassidim resolved that a minyan of Chassidim should go to the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Ohel to read a Pa”N K’loli on behalf of all the Chassidim, asking the Frierdiker Rebbe to inspire within the Rebbe a will to accept the nesius.
Thus, on the second of Iyar, a minyan of elder Chassidim (including Reb Yisroel Jacobson, Reb Elya Simpson, Reb Shlomo Aaron Kazarnovsky), and Yungerleit (including Reb Berel Baumgarten, Reb Yosef Wineberg) went to the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Ohel. There are those who say that from the day this petition was made at the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Ohel, they no longer heard the Rebbe respond, “M’darf hobin hora’os,” although the Rebbe continued in refusing the nesius.
On 7 Iyar, a group of distinguished Chassidim entered the Rebbe’s room and notified the Rebbe that they are prepared to give themselves over to the Rebbe in heart and soul. The Rebbe responded: “Whatever I possess and am allowed to give, I will give; but what I do not possess and am prohibited from giving, I will not, and wish not to give.” The Chassidim asked the Rebbe to recite Chassidus (i.e. a Ma’amor), but the Rebbe replied that this would imply a significant change, which he was not prepared to make. The Chassidim persisted that at least the Rebbe should recite the Chassidus of the Frierdiker Rebbe, but the Rebbe insisted that this would also be too much of a change.
Nonetheless, on that same day, the Rebbe did show formal signs of acting as a Rebbe would. A Bochur knocked on the Rebbe’s door and asked that he be granted a yechidus. The Rebbe responded by donning his gartel and closing the window shade, and then sat down and burst into tears. The bochur asked the Rebbe a few questions in Avodas Hashem and the Rebbe replied to each of them.
On Lag B’omer, Chassidim noticed a major step forward towards the Rebbe accepting the nesius. Before leaving for the Ohel along with the Rebbe, each Chossid approached the Rebbe and personally handed him their Pidyon. This was the first time that the Rebbe officially accepted Pannim from the crowd before going to the Ohel and it was seen as a breakthrough in a good direction.
During the Rebbe’s Shavuos farbrengen, Reb Eliyahu Simpson stood up and on behalf of Anash, announced: “The sichos are good, but we want to hear Chassidus.” At first, the Rebbe did not react at all, but later, when Reb Eliyahu repeated his announcement, the Rebbe smiled and said, “Must it be right now? It does not have to be now, it can wait for another opportunity.” This was yet another indication that the Rebbe was finally relenting to the Chassidim’s pleas and that he would sooner or later formally accept the nesius.
Reb Yoel Kahan relates: Taking note of the fact that the Rebbe seemed to gradually accept the nesius in a more public manner, he decided it was time to officially transcribe and publish the Rebbe’s Torah. He composed a transcription of the Rebbe’s Farbrengen of Shabbos Mevorchim Sivan and mentioned it to one of the elder Chassidim, who in turn consulted with others among the elder Chassidim. They decided to go to the Rebbe and ask his permission to print it. An elder Chossid then approached the Rebbe and explained that Anash living outside New York wished to know what was said at the Farbrengens, thus he requested the Rebbe’s permission to print Reb Yoel’s transcription. “Why not?” answered the Rebbe, and in order that his permission not be taken as any sort of implication, the Rebbe added: “This could have been done before Yud Shevat as well.” The Rebbe then asked for the text to be brought to him for editing before it was published. From then on, an official chazzora, headed by Reb Yoel, took place after every farbrengen.
The following story depicts the tension felt by the Chassidim at that time as momentum rose towards the Rebbe’s formal acceptance of the nesius, and the lengths they would go to ensure that nothing stood in the way of realizing their fervent hope: On 26 Sivan, a meeting took place in 770 about the future of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch. The Rebbe headed the meeting, speaking of the financial strain the Mosdos were going through, and asking all present to assist in raising the appropriate funds. When someone suggested that the Rebbe should appoint a few individuals to create a committee, the Rebbe responded: “So you are saying that I should do everything myself. Nu, everything will continue as it was until now. I will carry on with the Rebbe’s kochos. But any recent undertakings of mine will be weakened, and needless to say, I will refrain from taking upon myself any new responsibilities. When I visit the Ohel on Yud-Beis Tammuz, I will notify the Rebbe of the results of this meeting; namely, that no progress has been made.”
These were difficult words to hear. The Chassidim present feared that the Rebbe was intimating his final opposition in accepting the nesius. Rabbi Kazarnovsky stood up and screamed out, “Everyone present is ready to go wherever it is that you wish! The same way we followed Moshe Rabbeinu, we will follow you!” Later that evening, a group of elder Chassidim entered the Rebbe’s room and told the Rebbe that Anash were prepared to do whatever the Rebbe wishes, including forming the committee on their own, as the Rebbe had mentioned, so long as the Rebbe will not diminish at all in the commitment to accept the nesius, chas ve’sholom. The Rebbe responded: “What does one have to do with the other? The meeting was about Merkos and Machane.”
Even after such an apprehensive experience as recorded in the last story, Chassidim kept the drive forward and continued taking hopeful steps in the right direction, as evident in the next story: On 7 Tammuz, the Rebbe’s sicha was published for the first time in mimeograph. Initially, Reb Yoel had added a footnote in the booklet, stating, “Transcribed by one of the listeners, edited by Chak Shlita.” But when the Rebbe noticed it, he asked for those copies to be discarded and that the sicha be reprinted without that line.
Up until this point, anyone who wished to have yechidus with the Rebbe would simply knock on the door of the Rebbe’s room and would be allowed in. In Tammuz 5710, the Rebbe told Rabbi Hadokov to notify the public that due to his busy schedule, it would be best if people came to the office first to request a yechidus, and they would be appointed a specific time.
On Chai Elul, the Rebbe wrote a Michtav Kloli for the first time, addressed to worldwide Jewry, beginning with the -“אל בני ובנות ישראל די בכל אתר ואתר” words yet another indication that the Rebbe was finally accepting the nesius. A few days later, on the first day of Slichos, the Rebbe wrote an additional letter addressed to all Talmidei HaYeshivos around the world.
Picking up on all the past events, Chassidim in Eretz Yisroel felt the time was ripe for official action to be taken. A grand kinus was held in Tomchei Tmimim – Lod for all of Anash on Chai Elul. The kinus began with reading the telegram the Rebbe had sent to all the participants. At the behest of Reb Chaim Schneerson, a telegram was sent back to the Rebbe on behalf of all the participants wishing “Mazal Tov” in honor of Kabbolas HaNesius. The next day, the Hamodia newspaper ran a story that Chabad Chassidim had crowned the Rebbe as their leader.
The new year’s beginning brought with it much positive change. Right from the start, it seemed that the Rebbe would officially accept the nesius at last. The height of this was on Simchas Torah, as recorded in the following story: On Simchas Torah day, the Rebbe received Chosson Bereishis. When the gabbai, Reb Berel Chaskind, called up the Rebbe with the title “Adoneinu Moreinu V’rabeinu,” he burst out crying. This was the first time that the Rebbe had been called to the Torah this way publically, and everyone present was filled with emotion. The prevailing feeling was that the gabbai himself was not speaking alone, but that everyone in the room was reciting it together. It was almost like an informal “hachtora.”
In general, Chassidim say that from the beginning of the new year (5711), many signs pointed to the Rebbe’s gradual acceptance of the nesius.
The Rebbe established a schedule for Yechidus, receiving people three times a week –Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday nights at 8:00.
Further, from Simchas Torah onward, the Rebbe was called to the Torah as “Adoneinu Moreinu V’rabeinu, ben Horav Levi Yitzchak.”
On special days (Yomei d’Pagra) the Rebbe always farbrenged; it was hoped that, from Yud Shevat onward, he would begin to “say Chassidus” as well.
During this time also, the Rebbe authorized the official establishment of “Va’ad L’hafotzas haSichos,” a committee in charge of printing the Rebbe’s sichos, showing personal support by symbolically contributing towards the expenses.
Like Never Before
Before Yud-Tes Kislev, the Rebbe sent out another Michtav Kloli addressed to all the Chassidishe Rebbes around the world, urging them about the importance of spreading Chassidus and to utilize this auspicious day for activities in that regard. On Yud Tes Kislev, a massive crowd flocked to 770 for the Rebbe’s farbrengen. Chassidim observed that from the time of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s arrival in the United States, there had never been such a large crowd gathered in 770– yet another indication of the Rebbe’s increasing influence even outside Lubavitch; a sure sign that the Rebbe would soon accept the nesius totally and openly.
At the farbrengen of Shabbos Mevorchim Teves, the Rebbe hinted at the nesius somewhat. Speaking about the importance of obeying the Rebbe’s instructions, the Rebbe remarked: “One need not spend too much time reflecting on the instruction first, contemplating and discussing, then going to mikva and waiting three days until Rabbi Hadokov grants him an appointment so that he can ask again.” Chassidim present were very excited to hear these words, for they perceived it to mean that the Rebbe clearly acknowledged his position as Nossi of Chabad.
Recent events showed that the matter was finally coming to a close. Any day now, the Rebbe would accept the nesius officially. So, on Chof Daled Teves, a large group of elder Chassidim came to the Rebbe’s room to present a “K’sav Hiskashrus,” on behalf of all of the Chassidim in America, accepting the Rebbe as leader. Many of them were openly emotional, especially those who remembered the Rebbe Rashab and the Frierdiker Rebbe. When the Rebbe read the first line of the letter he began crying and said, “Please go out. This has no connection to me.”
On 26 Teves, articles appeared in the New York Jewish newspapers reporting that the Lubavitcher Chassidim had crowned a new Rebbe on the 24th of Teves, and that the official acceptance of leadership would soon take place on Yud Shevat. When the Rebbe saw this, he instructed Rabbi Hodakov to contact the newspapers’ editorial staff immediately to demand that they print follow-up articles denying the previous report. Rabbi Hodakov called Rabbi Kazarnovsky, Rabbi Jacobson and Reb Shmuel Levitin, asking that they handle the situation. Together, the three entered the Rebbe’s room and begged him to reconsider. Rabbi Kazarnovsky cried, “What is the Rebbe doing to us?” Reb Shmuel Levitin argued that the newspapers had not written that the Rebbe had accepted the nesius – but rather that the Chassidim had accepted the Rebbe as their leader, something that could not be denied. In the end, the Rebbe agreed not to contact the newspapers.
On Rosh Chodesh Shevat, the Rebbe wrote two letters to all Chassidim: one letter encouraged them all to learn the Maamar of “Basi L’gani” in honor of Yud Shevat, and the second letter detailed the appropriate conduct for the upcoming day. This was clearly an indication of acceptance of the nesius, as the Rebbe addressed all the Chassidim collectively, beginning with the words “bemaaneh al she’eilas rabim”.
Yud Shevat, 5711
Following Shacharis, the Chassidim all wrote Pannim and handed them to the Rebbe. Presenting the Rebbe a “K’sav Hiskashrus” on behalf of all the Chassidim, Reb Meir Ashkenazi asked the Rebbe to take on the nesius in order to hasten Moshiach’s arrival. The Rebbe responded, “Yes, but you must see to help me out.” While still in 770, before everyone left for the Ohel, one Chossid read aloud a Pa”N K’loli to the Frierdiker Rebbe, asking him to ensure that the Rebbe accept the nesius and have success in his role as Rebbe. This Pa”N K’loli was read again at the Ohel, and then given to the Rebbe. Initially, the Rebbe refused to read it, but when he finally began to read it, he shed bitter tears.
The Rebbe remained at the Ohel for many hours, only returning to 770 very close to sunset. The Rebbe entered the Farbrengen that night at 9:45 p.m., together with Rabbi Kazarnovsky and Horav E. Yalles (of Philadelphia) and took his place. Following the first Sicha, Leibel Groner whispered to R’ Yitzchak Hendel to ask the Rebbe to say a Ma’amar. The Rebbe heard the request and told Rabbi Hendel, “Tell him not to ‘drei a kop’.” Rabbi Kramer was standing nearby and overheard the conversation. He said to the Rebbe, “He’s right, we want to hear a Ma’amar.” The Rebbe just waved his hand as if to dismiss the idea entirely.
About an hour into the Farbrengen, Reb A. S. Nemztov stood up and announced, “Everyone wants to hear a Ma’amar. The sichos are good and fine, but we want to hear Chassidus.” The shul fell completely silent. All eyes locked onto the Rebbe’s holy face. The people waited, their hearts trembling with excitement and anticipation.
It was 10:40 PM; the Rebbe opened the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Ma’amar and began, “In the Ma’amar that the Rebbe distributed on the day of his histalkus, he begins with Basi L’gani.” Then, the Rebbe began to speak in the tune of a Ma’amar.
Excitement spilled over in 770. People began pushing. And then a deep hush descended on the room and the Rebbe continued the Ma’amer. The Rebbe spoke about the Avodah of Dor Hashvi’I and cried profusely, and when he completed Se’if Gimmel, he said, “We will now take a break and say L’Chaim.” Rabbi Nemtzov jumped up onto the table and cried out, “We must say ‘Shehecheyanu’. Hashem has helped us: we have a Rebbe!” He then recited the Brocho of “Shehecheyanu” with Hashem’s name and all present responded with a thunderous “Amein.” The Rebbe smiled and asked Rabbi Nemtzov to come down from the table.
Following the Ma’amar, Rabbi Nemtzov, in the name of the Chassidim blessed the Rebbe—in honor of the Nesi’us—with “Bonei, Chayei U’mezonei,” and everyone answered, “Amen.”
At 12:55 AM, the Rebbe initiated the singing of “Ki V’Simcha,” and he left the shul. The Chassidim continued to sing the Nigun as they danced with great joy for a long while. As the Rebbe walked out the door, Rabbi Kazarnovsky wished him “Mazel Tov.” Hearing this the Rebbe smiled.
After the Farbrengen, the Chassidim sat until 3:00 AM reviewing the words the Rebbe had spoken that evening, and the bochurim, despite their exhaustion, stayed until six-thirty in the morning to review the new Maamar, over and over, and over again.
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